elegant and rigorous catechism An Anglican Catechism by Edward Norman, Continuum £9.99
ou have only to place this slender Anglican offering beside the magisterial Catechism of the Catholic Church, anti the jokes about how little Anglicans believe these days start to fonri in the mind. But comparisons are odious and in this case downright unfair.
Aware that an official Anglican Catechism is in preparation, Edward Norman, the sometimes quirky, always readable Chancellor of York Minster and former Dean of Peterhouse, Cambridge, has stolen a march on the bureaucrats and produced his own terse, yet elegant version. The fun will be comparing this personal contribution with the horse designed by the committee.
Orthodox Anglicans can be grateful to Norman — though no one should suppose that this is an easy read. He chooses to abandon the traditional dependence of Catechisms On the Creeds, the Lord's Prayer and the seven Sacraments and introduces his material under three sections: Doctrine and Orders; Morality and Applications; The Christian Life. It is a scheme which fits well the short but racy canter through Christian teaching that he has in mind.
This is a volume in which theodicy gets three wellconstructed and thoughtful sentences, and the section on
Judgment (how Jack Spong would hate it!) ends with a quotation from the CounterReformation saint, Francis Xavier. Nothing is mealymouthed. How many Anglicans, I wonder, could write on Justification with Norman's straightforwardness?
"The extent of human depravity is such that sinfulness renders acts of righteousness ambiguous ... The mercy of God is such that corruption is overcome not by the achievement of moral rectitude hut by right belief."
It is an elegant apposition; but one cannot help thinking that it states more accurately what the Church of England used to teach than what Anglicans now teach, or will take into their increasingly shaky future. This book has been criticised in the press (if the caricatures of Church teaching now available in the secular media can be dignified as criticism) as revisionist on sexual morality. A good deal has been made of the Archbishop of York's association with this book and his own admission that his sexuality is a "grey area".
Not entirely to my surprise I discovered that the sections on sexual morality were as robust and clear as those on primary doctrine. Dr Norman is somewhat to the right of the average Tablet reader on most things, and more rigorous on abortion, contraception and homosexuality than the House of Bishops of the
Church of England could be. predicted to be (in the unhappy event of its having to rule definitively on such . matters). There are more purple passages than grey areas.
But I arn in a quandary what to do with this book. It will not replace The Catechism of the Catholic
Church as nny standard confirmation present — nothing could. It requires a readership which can rejoice in its many linguistic felicities and careful avoidanees of doctrinal pitfalls. Its weakness is also its
strength: like so much conservative Anglicanism it is too clever by half.
Geoffrey Kirk is an Anglican parish priest in Lewisham, south London.